Psychological abuse, also known as emotional abuse, can cause serious emotional and mental health problems. It is often a precursor to physical abuse.

What Is Psychological Abuse?

Psychological abuse, also known as emotional abuse, refers to a person using verbal and nonverbal forms of communication to try to control someone or harm them emotionally.

Although psychological abuse does not leave physical scars, it can cause serious emotional and mental health problems. This form of abuse can be more difficult to detect; however, it is important to recognize it and seek help as soon as possible, as it is often a precursor to physical abuse.

Recognize Some Types of Psychological Abuse


Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that plants seeds of doubt in victims, causing them to question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Through constant denials, misdirection, contradictory statements, and lies, abusers attempt to destabilize their victims and undermine their legitimate beliefs. This leads to the formation of mind knots that cause cognitive and emotional harm to the victim. Psychological manipulation, especially when it goes on long term, can cause anxiety, depression, and even psychosis.

Psychological manipulation can occur in intimate relationships; occurs in school as a form of bullying; occurs in the workplace as a form of harassment; or it can also be institutional and systemic. The three most common gaslighting methods are hiding (hiding facts and information from the victim); changing (changing something about the victim so that the victim molds into the abuser’s fantasy), and fully controlling the victim.

Defamation Of Character

Defamation of character refers to an abuser making false statements that damage the victim's reputation. The abuser creates a false image of the victim in society and creates a hostile environment. The goal of defamation is to disable the victim in private and professional life.

Defamation of character can cause serious psychological damage, which can lead to depression, anxiety, self-harm, the broken mirror syndrome (deformed picture about oneself, internalization of abuser’s negative emotions and thoughts, mind knots, destructive self-criticism, low self-esteem, strong inferiority complex, strong somatization of emotional pain, increased suggestibility), suicidal ideation and suicide.

Mockery And Insults

Mockery and insults are powerful "weapons" in bullying and harassment. Mockery is often associated with envy and a lack of constructive self-criticism; it is used to destabilize and humiliate victims. Mockery can also be used as a method of manipulation aimed at discrediting a rival. The victim may lose confidence and status in a certain social environment. Mockery can cause subconscious knots of negative feelings in the victim's mind. These subconscious knots are complicated to disentangle and can destroy the victim’s self-esteem.

Sometimes abusers will deliberately misinterpret their mockery and insults as humor. It is very important to distinguish people with a sense of humor from those who ridicule and humiliate. A healthy dose of humor - which is always desirable in relationships - will never humiliate another person.

Mental Bullying

Bullying is a systematic abuse of power and is defined as aggressive behavior or intentional harm-doing by peers that is carried out repeatedly and involves an imbalance of power. Mental bullying is a major risk factor for poor physical and mental health and reduced adaptation to adult roles.

  • Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying or cyber-harassment is becoming increasingly common, especially among teenagers. Some common forms of Internet bullying include trolling, and using electronic communications to stalk and harass victims. Being insulted and harassed on the Internet can cause mental and psychological damage, and victims of cyberbullying can experience the formation of knots of negative emotions and thoughts leading to anxiety and depression. They may have decreased self-esteem, increased suicidal thoughts, and a variety of emotional reactions, including fear, frustration, anger, and depression.

  • Beauty bullying: Beauty bullying is a type of bullying based on beauty stereotypes and beauty ideals - people who do not fit beauty stereotypes and do not want to follow beauty trends will be insulted or mocked. Beauty bullying can cause a lot of emotional suffering and a myriad of psychological problems, such as low self-esteem, inferiority complex, ugliness complex, social anxiety, depression, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia.

  • Mobbing (bullying at work): Mobbing is a form of psychological harassment that occurs in the workplace, which can be vertical (the abuser is in a higher position of power than the victim); horizontal (the abuser is in a position of power equal to the victim); or a combined form (the victim is abused from both directions). Common mobbing behaviors include too much work (burnout syndrome), no work at all (empty desk mobbing), wrong assignments (the victim is assigned tasks that are not in the job description), slander, verbal assault, social isolation, mockery, and gaslighting.

>>> Read more: Workplace Bullying

Common Psychological Abuse Practices

Child Abuse

Here are some examples of psychological child abuse:

  • Yelling or cursing at children

  • Frequently criticizing or picking on children

  • Humiliating children or talking down to them

  • Blaming or punishing children for adult problems

  • Threatening to hurt or abandon children

  • Failing to create a healthy, safe, and stable environment for children

  • Allowing children to witness acts of violence or abuse at home

  • Not paying attention to children and refusing others' help for them

Psychological abuse can harm children in the same way as physical or sexual abuse; however, it is harder to detect, so people are less likely to help the child. Children who are psychologically abused may have problems in school; difficulty sleeping; eating disorders (such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia); mental health problems (such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or difficulty regulating emotions); behavioral issues (such as lying, aggression, or acting harshly); physical health problems (such as pains or digestive problems); and a tendency to engage in risky behaviors or use substances at an early age.

Intimate Partner Abuse

Here are some examples of intimate partner abuse:

  • Always want to know what their partner is doing, where they are, and who they are with

  • Expect their partner to communicate regularly or check on their partner's whereabouts

  • Want phone passwords, email addresses and social network accounts to monitor their partner's activities

  • Monitor their partner's spending habits and control their finances

  • Jealous and often accuse their partner of cheating/infidelity

  • Making decisions for their partner without consulting them (such as what their partner will eat or what to wear)

  • Try to prevent their partner from meeting friends and family

  • Prevent their partner from going to work, school, or participating in social events

  • Prevent their partner from getting medical help or advice

  • Get angry and abusive in ways that make their partner afraid

  • Cursing, calling names, or treating their partner like a child

  • Mocking or humiliating their partner in front of others

  • Threatening to hurt their partner or take legal action, often for fabricated reasons

  • Threatening to hurt themself when they are upset as a way to manipulate and control their partner's behavior

Victims may feel hopeless, helpless, guilty, or ashamed, and believe that they are unworthy of love and undeserving of respect. They always doubt and question themselves. They may also feel overwhelmed and stressed, feeling controlled and manipulated. Victims will always live in fear and tend to act differently to avoid bothering the abuser. These mental injuries make it difficult for them to concentrate, sleep, and enjoy their work or hobbies. If the abuse continues, the victim is at risk of developing anxiety disorders, depression, self-esteem issues, or chronic pain.

The Psychology Of Abusers

Past Experiences

Research has shown that individuals who have experienced violence in the past are more likely to normalize and perpetrate abusive behaviors. This may include childhood abuse, exposure to violence, or other traumatic experiences.

Personality Traits

Certain personality traits may also contribute to the likelihood of an individual engaging in abusive behavior toward others. These can include low self-esteem, narcissism, lack of empathy, etc. For example, a man who is psychologically abusive towards his wife may have the following characteristics: low self-esteem, a belief in patriarchal (often called “traditional”) gender roles, or the belief that men are superior to women as human beings; feeling that others "owe" him; frequent oversensitivity; having unrealistic expectations of intimate relationships and partners.

Social And Cultural Norms

Cultural and social norms can also influence individuals' behavior in relationships. For example, some cultures may condone or even encourage violence in relationships or view men's control of women as acceptable or excusable.

Other Factors

Other factors that may contribute to the psychological makeup of a domestic abuser include:

  • Mental health issues: People struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions may be more susceptible to violent outbursts.

  • Financial stress: Financial stress can also lead to feelings of helplessness, frustration, and anger, which can increase the likelihood of abusive behavior.

  • Lack of social support: A lack of social support can make individuals feel isolated and vulnerable, which can exacerbate feelings of anger and aggression.

Coping With Psychological Abuse

Here are some strategies that can help you cope if you have experienced psychological abuse:

  • Recognize the problem: The first step is to recognize that you are being abused. Learn about the characteristics of healthy relationships and differentiate between unhealthy behaviors.

  • Leave the abusive situations: It is important to make a safety plan and leave as soon as possible. Seek help from trusted friends, family members, neighbors, law enforcement, or organizations if necessary.

  • Keep records of abuse: An abuser may gaslight you by saying, “I never said that,” which can make you doubt yourself. It's helpful to write down all the details so you can understand what happened.

  • Don't engage: Limit your response to the abuser. Learn to set firm boundaries and refuse to engage with them.

  • It's not your fault: Remind yourself over and over that it's not your fault for being abused. You do not deserve to be abused and you are not the cause of the abuse.

  • Build healthy relationships: It may be difficult for you to trust or open up to others, but these are important elements of a healthy relationship with mutual respect, trust, and affection.

  • Seek help: Support groups can help you speak up about your abuse to people who have similar experiences. Psychotherapy can help you process your emotions, develop coping skills, build self-esteem, and heal from the trauma.

Psychological abuse, especially if prolonged, can seriously damage your health and leave emotional scars. If you need psychological support, go to a medical facility for a timely examination and diagnosis, or contact the Vietnam - France Psychology Institute via Hotline: 0979.158.463 for specific advice. Early intervention is key to improving health and quality of life.


[1] What Is Psychological Abuse?. https://www.verywellmind.com/psychological-abuse-types-impact-and-coping-strategies-5323175#:~:text=Psychological%20abuse%2C%20also%20known%20as,issues%20and%20mental%20health%20conditions

[2] What Is the Psychological Makeup of an Abuser?. https://www.cawc.org/news/what-is-the-psychological-makeup-of-an-abuser/

[3] Psychology of Abusive Human Behavior. https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation?paperid=116357



HEADQUARTER & PSYCHOTHERAPY CENTER: WINCO Building, 54 Tran Quoc Vuong Street, Dich Vong Hau Ward, Cau Giay District, Hanoi, Vietnam

PSYCHOTHERAPY CENTER IN HCMC: Landmark 81 & Landmark Plus, Vinhomes Central Park, 720A Dien Bien Phu Street, Ward 22, Binh Thanh District, HCMC, Vietnam

Phone: 0979.158.463 (Business hours)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ic.vfpi 

Bài viết liên quan

Gọi cho tôi

Hãy gửi thông tin cho chúng tôi, nhân viên tư vấn của Viện sẽ liên hệ lại Quý khách trong vòng 24h. Thông tin của Quý khách chỉ để chúng tôi liên hệ và không gửi cho bên thứ ba.

Tài nguyên

Trắc nghiệm